Basic Conducting Patterns And Gestures

Basic patterns and gestures that conductors use to direct ensembles.

Conducting is a mystery to most people, but it doesn't have to be. It's very simple, and very necessary to ensembles. It tells them when to play, how to play, when to get louder or softer, and much more. Anyone can learn to read or use basic conducting gestures with just a few simple lessons.

The 4/4 pattern: This is the most basic of all patterns. Use your right hand to conduct. Hold your hand up high and out in front of you. Draw it straight down, then over to the left, then over to the right, then back up. You should make a basic square shape with your hand as you conduct. Down is "1," left is "2," right is "3," and up is "4." Make sure you make it clear where your hand is going, because otherwise you will be impossible to follow!

The 3/4 pattern: It's similar to the 4/4 pattern, but you don't need as many beats. Hold your hand out the same way and draw it down, over to the RIGHT, then back up. You should make a roughly right triangle. Down is "1," right is "2," and up is "3."

The 2/4 or 2/2 pattern: These are the same thing as far as conductors are concerned. Hold your hand out, as before. Draw it down and slightly to the right, then bounce back up again. Down is "1," and up is "2." The reason you draw it just slightly to the right is so the musicians can tell where 1 is. Otherwise it looks like you're going simply up and down, not giving beats.

In each of these patterns, emphasize each beat by bouncing your hand slightly. This is so musicians can tell you're actually ON that beat, and not still traveling to it.

Conductors also make other gestures. They use their left hands for all of these.

Cuing: Sometimes there is a soloist or soli section in the ensemble that is coming in at a difficult time. In order to help that player or players, the conductor will cue them. To do this, hold your left hand out, with your index finger extended. Move your hand so your index finger is facing up, then bring it down and point to the person who should play. Moving the hand up is done on the beat before the player begins (to let them know it's almost time), and moving the hand down is to let the player know it's time to start now. You should always give this kind of "up-down" preparation.

Crescendo: Place your hand down low and open, palm up. Raise your hand slowly, keeping the palm flat. This indicates that the group should get louder.

Diminuendo: Hold your hand high and palm down. Slowly lower it, keeping the palm facing downwards. This indicates that the group should get softer.

Preparation: Before starting a group, give them an upbeat (bring your hands up, as though you were conducting beat 4), then down again. This lets the group know how fast the conductor wants to go, and that the conductor is ready to start.

Hold: If you want your group to hold a note longer than what's printed (a fermata or the end of the piece), use your right hand. Keep it about mid-level and palm up. Hold it out in front of your body and slowly move it off to your right. The group should hold for as long as you move your hand.

Cut-off: Use both hands for this. Conduct in the basic pattern until it's time to end the piece (or section). Then, leave the conducting pattern by drawing your hands out to opposite sides (left off to the left, right off to the right) and up. It will be almost like a circle. When you finish the "circle," close your fingers against your hands, as though you were physically cutting something off.

In all of these gestures, make sure your hands have some bounce to them, and that each beginning and ending point is clear. These are all of the basic gestures that conductors use to direct their ensembles, and which anyone, with a little practice, can use.

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